Inspired by Urdu Novelist, Krishna Sobti

In 1979, when I was entering college in Faisalabad, then called Lyallpur, Pakistan, the grandame of Urdu Literature in India, Krishna Sobti, began writing, Zindagi Nama. She depicted lives in the Punjab countryside.  Some might argue that even today, the scenes from her novel accurately depict, present-day Punjab.

In my novel Wild Boar in the Cane Field, I do the same. I also take my reader to rural Punjab.

As I begin my new project, The Simurgh Rises, a dual memoir about British Imperialism, military rule, I find myself in the same rural setting. In this memoir, as we document the very different lives of two sisters living in exile from our past, we seek words that heal, word in literature.

Born in Pakistan to a Pakistani father and English mother—which resulted in Pakistanis and English considering us bi-racial—we write a Ken-Burns-like narrative fusing art, literature, history…life

An Excerpt from Zindaginama

“Babo grew red with embarrassment.

‘I am a stupid idiot, don’t mind what I say,’ and she got up and started dancing, clapping her hands to keep beat. She twirled and danced so merrily that all the women of the house, young and old, got up and joined her.

Moola Halwai called out from below, ‘O dhiyo-dhiyaniyo, take it easy! The sweets will get spoiled by the dust you’re kicking up!’

A Scene from The Simurgh Rises inspired by Sobti

“Another circle around which we gravitate, is the women and their daughters who live on the farm in Lyallpur. During the day they work in the field with their husbands and sons. When they are not harvesting mustard, alfalfa, or the crop of the season, they gather for spontaneous group prayers or celebrations.

Dancing the Punjabi Village Dance

These Punjabi village women gather to celebrate a birth, a harvest, an engagement, or even a beautiful day in spring with a gidda performance.  Selma and I join them. We stand with the group of fifteen to twenty women as they chant a boli appropriate to the event: mimicking in-laws at an engagement, praying for a long life at a birth. 

They begin with clapping synchronized to  the beat on  a  water pitcher. An opening wail of a chant soon follows.  The woman leading the chant dances to the center.  The circle of those around her quickens the beat to embolden her moves.  Clap clap clap – a long drawn out wail encourages her to swing her hips sensuously.

Sensuality in Chants and Dance

The circle around her screams a loud pretentious Haw of embarrassment when with her hands she gestures in ways that are unfamiliar to me. I can tell from how they cover their faces and giggle that I should not ask. I just pretend I know. Other women are pulled into the center.

Like the crane, the koonj, the women in the center, lift both arms, twisting their hands at the wrists flagging the tempo of the circle around them.

Mesmerized, the women dance where they stand until all are spent.

The sensuality of the dance discomforts mummy, and she pulls me back to the center of her world.  The world of Shakespeare and Dickens, the world of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Creating Cultural Memories Through Literature and Art


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